Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Teresa Wright and Robert Mitchum are "Pursued"

Pursued (1947) Is considered the first noir western, directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Teresa Wright and Robert Mitchum. The cinematography is by the legendary James Wong Howe and music by the equally legendary Max Steiner. Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese counts Pursued as one of his favorite films.

Mitchum is Jeb Rand, a man haunted by traumatic events from his past that left him an orphan. Mrs. Callum (Judith Anderson) adopts him and raises him as her son with her natural children Adam (John Rodney) and Thorley (Wright). But there is tension in these relationships, and a man he doesn’t even know torments Jeb for reasons he doesn’t understand. 

Others in the cast include Dean Jagger and Alan Hale.

Publicity still of Teresa Wright and Robert Mitchum

Raoul Walsh (1887 - 1980) was an American director, actor, and founding member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Walsh got his start acting on the stage in New York. He eventually began acting in silent films and worked as an assistant director alongside D.W. Griffith. He eventually became a director on his own working with major silent-film stars Douglas Fairbanks, Gloria Swanson, and Anna May Wong. He lost his right eye in a freak accident in 1928 and never acted again, instead of focusing exclusively on directing. Some of his notable films include The Roaring Twenties (1939) starring James Cagney and Priscilla Lane, High Sierra (1941) starring Ida Lupino and Humphrey Bogart, The Strawberry Blonde (1941) starring Cagney and Olivia de Havilland, White Heat (1949) starring Cagney and Virginia Mayo, and Captian Horatio Hornblower (1951) starring Gregory Peck and Mayo.

Teresa Wright (1918 - 2005) was an American stage, film, and television actress. She received Academy Award nominations in her first three films, a record that still holds today. In 1942, she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Mrs. Miniver and for Best Actress in The Pride of the Yankees. She won the Supporting Oscar for Mrs. Miniver, her co-star, Greer Garson won Best Actress. Today Wright is most famous for playing Lou Gehrig’s wife in The Pride of the YankeesThe Best Years of Our Lives, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Wright was a popular star throughout the 1940s starring opposite Robert Mitchum, Ray Milland, Gary Cooper, and David Niven. She starred opposite Marlon Brando in his first film role in The Men (1950). Wright continued working in film, with her last role as Miss Birdie in The Rainmaker (1997). Wright is the only non-baseball player to be honored by the New York Yankees when she passed away at age 86. 

Robert Mitchum (1917 - 1997) was an American film actor, director, and singer. His breakthrough came in The Story of G.I. Joe (1945) for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. He later starred in the film noir classic Out of the Past (1947) Crossfire (1947), Rachel and the Stranger (1948), River of No Return (1954) The Night of the Hunter (1955) Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957), Home from the Hill (1960), Cape Fear (1962), and Ryan's Daughter (1970). Mitchum would remain busy until the late-nineties. Mitchum is rated number 23 on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest male stars of classic American cinema.

Pursued trivia

  • When the film was released, Teresa Wright was #6 at the box office.
  • Charles Bates who plays Adam Callum as an 11-year-old boy played Teresa Wright's younger brother in Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943).
  • The film was filmed in Gallup, New Mexico.
  • The screenplay was written by Niven Busch who was Teresa Wright's husband.
  • Niven Busch also wrote the novel Duel in the Sun which was made into a hit western that was supposed to star Wright. Wright had to drop out due to pregnancy. Pursued was a consolation prize of sorts.
  • Producer Milton Sperling and his United States Pictures production company worked out a distribution deal with Warner Bros. It was a profitable deal for both.

Teresa Wright was on the cover of Life magazine on December 16, 1946.

Why watch this film?

  1. The film features beautiful black and white cinematography by James Wong Howe.
  2. It's an opportunity to see Robert Mitchum in an early lead role.
  3. It's considered the first film noir western, directed by a legend of the Classic Hollywood period.
  4. The film boasts a strong cast including top-billed Teresa Wright, Judith Anderson, and Dean Jagger.

To watch the film on YouTube, click the link below.

Discussion questions:
  1. Do you think a western could be classified as a film noir?
  2. Freud and psychological dramas were all the rage in the 1940s. Does Pursued work as a psychological western?
  3. What did you make of Jeb's relationship with his stepmother, stepbrother, and sister?
  4. Do you think the family dynamics would have been different had Jeb's true origins been known from the beginning?
  5. The scene when Jeb and Adam sing together is a pleasant one and suggests that togetherness and family love was possible or does it?
  6. Was there a performance that stood out to you?
  7. Did anything surprise you?
  8. Do you think the movie had a theme? If so, what do you think it was?
Teresa Wright on location with cinematographer James Wong Howe behind the camera

To join the discussion on January 31, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you'll receive an invitation and a link to the discussion on Zoom.

Contemporary reviews for Pursued

Bosley Crowther in The New York Times said this about the film: "...And it is likewise hard to work up any sympathy for the hero, who seems bored by all his woes. That may be because Robert Mitchum, who plays the latter, is a very rigid gent and gives off no more animation than a Frigidaire turned to 'Defrost.'"*

Variety praised the film: "Pursued is potent frontier days Western film fare. Standout in picture is suspense generated by the original script and Raoul Walsh's direction. It builds the western gunman's death walk to high moments of thrill and action. Strong casting also is a decided factor in selling the action wares. Production makes use of natural outdoor backgrounds supplied by New Mexico scenery, lending air of authenticity that is fully captured by the camera."**

*New York Times, Crowther, Bosley, review March 8, 1947
**Variety magazine, Variety staff, review December 31, 1946

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